Hindu stupa in Champassak considered for heritage listing
With a rich heritage and recently rediscovered stupa closely linked to an ancient empire inspired by the faith of Hinduism, Phou Malong (Miss Malong Tale Mountain) is set to become another tourist attraction in Champassak province.
Located within striking distance of the provincial capital of Pakxe, the mountain temple is set to attract increasing numbers of visitors to its historical and cultural treasures related to the already renowned UNESCO World Heritage Site of Vat Phou.
Map identifying the location of Nongdinchi temple on Phou Malong mountain.
Champassak tourism authorities are working to develop the area as a sustainable tourism destination and improve connectivity between the sites in order to attract more visitors to the province toward 2020 and beyond.
Located in Phonthong district, Phou Malong mountain is the site of Nongdinchi temple which plays host to the rediscovered Hindu stupa dating back to before the heyday of the Khmer empire, once centred at the famous ancient city of Angkor across the border in modern-day Cambodia.
Now, Champassak's Vat Phou World Heritage Office is gearing up to submit documents to officially register the Hindu-era stupa and surrounds as a tourist attraction with the provincial governor's office seal of approval.
The site will be considered for designation as one of the province's cultural, historical and natural sites.
The office will then submit an application to the central level to consider it for registration as a national heritage site.
The rediscovered stupa has deep connections to the culture of the area as well as the Hindu faith of its ancient inhabitants.
Ornately decorated in the Hindu style not found elsewhere in Laos outside Vat Phou, the site is considered an important piece of the area's rich cultural heritage.
According to expert analysis, the stupa is 400 years older than the structures at the Vat Phou World Heritage Site and older again than Angor Wat in Cambodia's Siem Reap.
Based on available evidence it is believed Vat Phou was built between the 5th and 7th centuries, making the stupa a significant find indeed.
Head of the Vat Phou World Heritage Office, Mr Oudomsy Keosaksith said the area was a rich repository of heritage.
“Around Phou Malong mountain as well as temple, we also discover building blocks from the Hindu era, Shiva linga, and temple structure with sculptures that convey the beliefs of their faith.”
Preservation was an essential components of any plan, with protection of the site and halt to all proximate construction activities until a thorough survey was completed called for, he said.
“We have already taken measures to preserve the stupa in order to protect the structure from animals, people and natural disaster,” Mr Oudomsy said.
“However, we are now looking forward to finding the funds for a project to create facilities and to reinforce the stupa before reopening the area to the public.”
The mountain is located by the Mekong River and is an attraction in itself due to its scenic beauty, proving increasingly attractive to tourists for visits and to enjoy relaxation.
Not only home to the stupa and other ancient objects, Phou Malong mountain also has a popular association with the story of Miss Malong, a character in Lao literature or folk tale.
According to the tale of Miss Malong, a long time ago there were two best friends.
They promised each other that if each had children they would grow up to be best friends or in the case of having a boy and girl, get married to each other.
One friend had a daughter named Miss Malong and the other a son by the name of Mr Bachieng.
The day passed, and both best friends and their kids lived in different villages.
Their children grew up day by day and they rarely met each other because they lived in dif ferent villages.
Eventually the youngsters came of age and it was time to be married to each other, but alas Malong wasn't at all keen on Bachieng.
Instead, she had feelings for another man named Mr Champassak.
Her father didn't approve of the idea of her betrothal to the interloping Mr Champassak at all, insisting she could only marry with Bachieng, the son of his best friend.
And so, the day of the wedding for the ill-fated pairing arrived.
Bachieng and his family organised a traditional procession, carrying sacks of rice, chicken soup, wines and various gifts and jewelry by way of dowry to show suitable devotion to Malong and respect for her family.
Unluckily for Mr Bachieng, halfway way to the home of his bride to be word arrived that his dream lady Malong had run away to elope with Mr Champassak.
Mr Bachieng was so furious he threw away many gifts, wines and other goods and chattels in his anger and despair.
It is said Mr Bachieng cast away his wines at an area known as Phou Salao mountain also located nearby.
Mr Oudomsy Keosaksith said the tale of Malong and Mr Bachieng was a story passed from one g eneration to the next, and also closely related to myths connected to other islands and mountains around the Mekong River.
“Phou Malong Mountain provides a very good opportunity for us to promote our tourism sector,” he said.
“If we have enough funds to invest on development of tourism sites like this in our province, then we will have plenty of chances to attract more visitors keen on history, culture and nature.”
Phou Malong is some 10km from Pakxe on the way to Vat Phou World Heritage Site, located to the west.
The province has 216 official tourist sites, of which 116 are of scenic or natural interest, 60 are of cultural interest and 40 are historical in nature.
In 2016 the province received more than 621,000 visitors.
By Times Reporters
(Latest Update March 25, 2017)